Eight non-governmental organisations presented their joint statement in the interactive dialogue with Hina Jilani, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs), at the 7th session of the UN Human Right Council in Geneva.
The organisations expressed their concerns over the risks human rights defenders in Asia face today.
They presented cases of "intimidation, physical and psychological assault and retaliation" in Bangladesh, Burma, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. They said that "the police or the military, who are entrusted with the duty to protect, often fail to protect defenders and are instead perpetrating violence against them".
The joint statement also noted that legislations and policies issued by governments in the context of counter-terrorism and those meant to address nationalism, separatism and national security have been used to restrain human rights defenders from conducting their work in promoting and protecting human rights.
Finally, The organisations also question the role of the the governments of Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia in the disappearance of lawyer Somchai Neelanpaijit, the murders of activist Munir bin Thalib and union leader Chea Vichea.
The 7th session of the Human Rights Council being hold in Geneva will continue until 28 March 2008.
Joint Statement delivered by Mr. Rukshan Fernando on behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), Centre for Organization Research & Education (CORE), International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), Lawyers' Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and Pax Romana-ICMICA/MIIC in association with Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation (L4L), Law & Society Trust (LST) and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Situation of Human Right Defenders (SRSG on HRDs
Mme. Hina Jilani
Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Thank you, Mr. President.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), on behalf of its 40 member organizations in Asia and other human rights organizations co-signing this statement, welcomes the assessment of the situation on human rights defenders and recommendations provided by the Special Representative (A/HRC/7/28, A/HRC/7/28/Add.2) as well as the report of the Secretary-General on the studies relevant to cooperation with representatives of UN human rights bodies (A/HRC/7/45).
The reports of the Special Representative clearly point out that the biggest flaw in the protection of human rights defenders in Asia lies in the deficiency of concrete measures by governments to implement the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
At this time, we are most concerned about the situation of human rights defenders in Bangladesh, Burma, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand, as well as the risks faced by those who seek to cooperate with the United Nations and the Council's special procedures, who continue to face intimidation, physical and psychological assault and retaliation. For example, Pakistani human rights defender, Peter Jacob, and his colleagues of the National Commission for Justice and Peace have been accused of serious crimes based on the false allegations that they distributed a banned publication, which was a shadow report submitted by others to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) concerning Pakistan.
We are gravely disturbed that the police or the military, who are entrusted with the duty to protect, often fail to protect defenders and are instead perpetrating violence against them. In Pakistan, twelve months after the Pakistan Chief Justice was forcibly removed from office and arrested for demonstrating judicial independence, police tear gassed lawyers trying to visit his house where he has been detained since the beginning of November 2007. In India and Bangladesh, human rights defenders belonging to ethnic minorities, tribal communities, and indigenous peoples have been especially targeted for defending land rights and protesting injustices perpetrated by state actors. Irom Sharmila, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee from Manipur in India has been in judicial custody for the last seven years for peacefully protesting against the provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act of 1958.
The danger to defenders often extends to their families and friends. We recall the torture to death, by the military, of Pakistani defender Baseer Naweed's son in reprisal for his father's work on housing rights.
We are alarmed that the discourses of counter-terrorism, nationalism and separatism are often used by States to criminalize defenders and justify attacks on them. Many defenders in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand who have spoken out for the rights of others have been accused of supporting terrorists. We are seriously concerned with the trend of expansion of special laws and criminal suits against defenders. In Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, security laws have been enacted to restrain defenders from conducting their work.
We condemn the alleged role of the state in the disappearance of Thai lawyer Somchai Neelanpaijit, the murder of Indonesian activist Munir bin Thalib, and the murder of Cambodian union leader Chea Vichea. Mme. Representative and Mr. President, today, March 12, 2008, marks the fourth year anniversary of Somchai's disappearance.
Finally, while extending our appreciation to the Special Representative for her identification of indicators to gauge the situation of human rights defenders, we would like to ask one question: How does the Special Representative believe that those indicators on human rights defenders can best be included in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process? Without such an assessment, we believe the UPR process will be greatly weakened.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA